After about a month of being bedridden and another month of being hounded by Levi to get back under the covers, since according to him I hadn't fully recovered, I officially had developed the "ants in my pants syndrome".
Toward the end of month two, I finally got my wish. Ironically, I was told I should be grateful for being allowed to have my hand at the cleaning. After multiple demonstrations, practice runs, and occasional lectures on the proper technique, I was finally granted privilege to use the mop on my own.
I never fussed though.
I was content with how my life had turned out.
The four of us co-existed within the small house as if we were raised together. The only arguing, if ever, was usually over poor sanitary treatment. Which, nine times out of ten was the result of Isabel's laziness.
Month three was no less uneventful.
I still recall the day; Isabel and Farlan brought home an injured bird. I was even more ecstatic when Levi said he could stay. Even though, he constantly bickered about the filth, we all managed around it.
"He's sort of like you, huh Elke?" The blonde said as he wrapped the bird's wing. I took my finger and gently stroked the animal's soft head; the way Isabel had shown me.
"What'd you mean?" I asked with pure curiosity. "I mean-I'm not that small. And-and I don't have feathers." Farlan had a good chuckle at my statement.
"No that's true. And-your pretty tall for your age, kiddo-" The bird nestled deeper into the box made nest, "what I meant was, he's injured, but I believe with a little time, some food, and care he'll come around. What do you think?" I tilted my head before replying with a firm nod.
"Yeah, he'll make it. He's a fighter." I smiled at the creature. Farlan ruffled my hair then rubbed his finger by the rim of my right eye. Aside from forever having a slight rattle in my chest at night, I had made a full recovery from the Pneumonia. However, Farlan starred at me with concern, my outward appearance wasn't settling well with my caretakers.
Yes, I had put on a healthy amount of weight. I was never picky, all veggies ands grains satisfied my taste buds. Even my former cuts and sores were no longer visible; my skin basically glowed under the streetlights. I looked damn good, as Levi had said.
Except, I was never allowed to see myself in a mirror.
Honestly, I couldn't even give someone a description of myself; it had been that long. I never confessed, but I had heard the three of them one evening discussing 'the' topic when they thought I was asleep. It was startling to hear exactly what they saw. Apparently, the entire eye socket looked busted, exactly like a black eye. It was so dark in color that from a distance it seemed as though there wasn't an eye to begin with.
Not to mention, a new sprout of pinkish-purple veins had started creeping near my lids. Overall, I remember hearing how prominent the sight was. I guess; I should be fortunate all the reflections were raised to new heights. Since I never saw it, it was almost as if the defect never existed. All of them, including Levi, treated me as an equal.
I couldn't have ask for anything more.
Another couple of weeks had passed. My confidence with the lifestyle grew immensely. Unlike before, there was no more praying answers from me. It was as if they were seeing an entire new kid. I had blossomed from my former shell, matured more, and even developed an underlining trust with everyone. Each individual had a particular place in my heart. They all provided the support or care I needed in there own way.
Discoveries and adventurous outings were always Isabel's doings. I would follow her around, constantly glued to any activity she was engaged in. She was the older sister I never knew I wanted.
"Here-" Isabel shoved the beige feather into my hands. "Keep it." I twisted my lips in confusion. My fingers played with the tips of the ticklish hair.
"Won't he need it?" I ask, a bit concerned. Isabel let out a snorting laugh and nearly fell off the outside ledge we were sitting on. Having an accident one foot from the front door wasn't going to go over well with Levi.
The red head finally got control over herself to continue, "Don't be silly, it came loose, there's no way you can screw it back in." I twirled the feather. Maybe I could somehow. "Besides-keep it, it's a reminder." I looked at her as I tucked my amber locks.
"A re-?" I couldn't get the word out. Isabel lightly kicked her feet back and forth as she looked out to the dead underground city.
"Yea it's a reminder. A symbol-" I perked up; I knew what symbol meant.
"What does it mean?" I asked. Isabel glanced upwards. Her eyes scanned the cave's dreary cover. It didn't bother me as much as it did her. I had everything I ever could have imagined, the sun wasn't that important.
"That's our ticket to freedom. As long as we have that feather it will remind us of our dream. Our dream to be above this and to live as citizens under the open skies."
The following day, our little friend, was taken to an opening and turned free. I might not have been able to tag along, however I knew he was in good hands. Besides, I had plenty of chores to do.
"Elke-" My attention was directed away from my polishing.
"Yes?" I asked as respectfully as possible. Farlan strolled in with Isabel behind him. They were unloading their 3DM Gear for the evening. I never got tired of watching them fly across the sky. Even though Isabel had begged Levi to let me learn, the answer was always the same.
"She's too young."
"The gear is too heavy."
"God damnit, I said no."
"When you find a helmet and elbow pads then we'll talk."
Sometimes it was a crushing blow. I had to sit at home, by myself for the majority part of the day. There wasn't much entertainment for someone my age. I couldn't even venture off with a story, since those black and white texts didn't make sense. I always had to wait for Levi for the books.
"Could you assist me in a favor, kiddo?" Farlan asked as he placed his gear on the floor. I instantly, yet carefully, put the cabals I had been cleaning back on the table. Levi had entrusted me with his equipment and I never did a poor job. I folded the cloth I was using and pushed in my chair, before doing a skip-like jump towards the blonde.
"Sure!" I asked egger to know what was in store for me. I starred up at him as he pulled a small pouch from his pocket. My eyes glistened at the sight of the money.
"Isabel and I are a little tired from today's work. Would you mind going to the market's stand and getting us some food for tonight?" I had to control my excitement.
"Yeah! It-it's the one with the bald man right?" I couldn't recall his name, but I remembered that shinny head. Farlan handed me the money. I neatly cradled the paper in my palm.
"That's the one. Now, just ask the owner for the usual, he'll understand."
"Ok!" I smiled as wide as ever. Farlan then placed a hand on my shoulder.
"Straight there and back. No talking with strangers and try to hurry before Levi gets home." He let out a small chuckle. I knew what he was implying.
"I will-!" I was about to leave when Farlan tapped me lightly on the head.
I held out two crossed arms and two little digits, our signature agreement.
"Double pinkie promise!" I replied.
I trotted through the quiet town.
It felt good to stretch my legs. This was the first time Farlan had asked me to run an errand so far away from home. For the past weeks, I was allowed small bits of freedom. It was sort of like being on an invisible long leash, as Levi so rightfully reminded me. The farthest I was allowed was to give messages to the other group members.
Usually that was only a ten-minute stroll, if I was purposefully being sluggish.
I slowed as I neared a familiar building. There was always a crippled homeless woman there. She had her worn blankets underneath her and a grim look on her face. It bothered me that she never moved. Why didn't she want to walk around or jog somewhere? Why did she always sit?
I had asked Levi once, if she could stay with us, when we passed through here on our weekly trips. She looked like she needed help, just like how I was. The leader let out a 'tch'.
"The day I let that flea infested thing inside will be the day everyone gains free unauthorized citizenship to the surface."
I took that as a no.
I didn't stare as I veered left. My limbs carried me another couple of feet when a commotion of yells and clanking of metal caught my attention. Normally, I would have kept to myself and ignored the noise. However, my gut was pulling me toward the alley in which the commotion was happening.
I slowly stalked my way to the edge of the brick wall. I could hear the struggle behind the cement. Fear gnawed at me as I listened.
"Give it here!"
"Ugly girl-stop fighting!"
The thudding of kicking shoes echoed against my ears. A girl's grunts and wails followed from every beating. I stood there frozen. My heart nearly exploded the more I heard the tussling behind my back.
What should I do?
I felt the money in my pocket.
In a way it was a comfort, a reminder, of the job that was needed of me. I had an obligation to fulfill. My mind circled back to Farlan and Isabel, there needs, for once, was resting on my shoulders. With a mental sigh, I decided to head back on the path. Before I could even managed a step, a familiar voice cried out. Little prickles ate at my skin.
"No-stop! That's mine!" Her voice danced through my memory. I barely had time to register what my body had done. There I stood, facing the aggressive assault. It was a challenge to distinguish exactly what was occurring amongst the chaos, the alley was horribly dark. The shadows were playing tricks. My vision wasn't exactly ideal for this situation either.
I had to squint long and hard.
Eventually, the voice I had recognized had a face, the face of my childhood friend and precious soul in my life. There she was, trying to hold her own against two older boys and a girl. It wasn't an equal fight in the least.
The assaulters had tools, weapons to use as brut force. The weak child only had her already battered fists and worn kicks on her side. I watched in disbelief as she wrestled with each member to the floor. The crumbs of leftover food would spill and cover the surface of the pavement.
I heard the repetitive sound of a wooden boards and metal poles whacking against her. Her face was beginning to show the trauma it had endured. Yet, she still held on to the remains of her food.
Another round of kicks and punches were launched in her direction. I listened to her wails as she struggled to keep going. Alone, the odds would never be in her favor.
"Fucking girl-just give up already!"
"You're about dead anyway-why bother to eat?"
A once hidden adrenaline now bubbled to the surface. I could feel the muscles in my body shoot waves of tension. Just like my father, I clench the sleeve of my left arm and rolled it up to my elbow. The fear drained into my legs, the shaking was visible. I had been in my fair share of fights and I knew from my past that when dealing with this particular bunch never resulted in anything short of annihilation.
"Bitch-give it here!"
"No!" My friend screamed. Her body was being stomped into the stone, like a crunchy beetle that had invaded the wrong home. That's what we had become, nothing more than pests and easy targets for bigger individuals. We had been reduced to the disgusting bugs of the underground.
Her frail arms clung to her bag.
I wouldn't be fighting alone.
Like an animal, I lunge my full weight at the middleman. His back was turned, and wasn't expecting the impact from behind. Instantly, his legs buckled underneath him and we were sent toppling to the pavement. Being in street fights, there were no limits, no rules, on how to defeat your opponent. Simply aim and wail.
My fists blindly punched at his head. I could feel my boney knuckles colliding with his scalp. It didn't take him any time to cast me off like going overboard on a ship. I took the brutal impact. My cheek grazed the rocky surface but quickly I got to my knees. There were no breaks in a brawl.
Just as I did, the man who was once under me can at me at full speed. His hand was balled and struck me like a cannon in my gut. The pain halted my breathing. I didn't see the next punch, until it struck me in the chin. The blow exploded a wad of blood from within my mouth. The metallic liquid sat bitterly on my tongue.
"Have you not learned your lesson from before-Milk eye?" The leader stood over me; his youthful teen face was covered in dirt and grim. His shaggy brunette hair nearly covered his eyes. One wouldn't have guessed he was strong, his lean body was false advertising.
His massive hand gripped the top of my collar. The fabric wrapped around the back of my neck and strangled in the front. My mouth curled into a wince. By now, the others had taken notice in the newcomer. Their attention was drawn away from the near lifeless girl on the ground. I knew I was about to meet the same fate.
"Holy shit- your face is disgusting!" The other smaller man said. His toothy grin haunted me as he burst into a laugh. The girl, known as Ducky, strutted up behind him, her banana-bobbed hair bounced along. Her pinkish freckled completion opposed her true vengeful personality.
"Doesn't seem much different than before-" She said coldly. The others chuckled at her comment. All of them were in cahoots with the devil himself. As if being pounded wasn't enough, their mouths always seemed to send additional abuse. Their street name, Shit Talkers wasn't far fetched.
The smallest member, Rock started to gab my right eye with his finger. He toyed with the amount of pressure. Each time he poked more painfully than the last. I wiggled against the hold the leader had on me. The soreness filled around my eye.
"Ah nasty, the veins feel like little dried up worms-" The kid snorted with excitement. They say his name came from his physic. He was broad, heavier, and low to the ground. However, others claim it resembled his lack of intelligence.
"Don't touch it, moron. You could catch it-" Ducky rolled her eyes as she slapped his hand away. The leader lifted his wooden plank board. One side had several rusty nails stuck out the back. I gritted my teeth, the nerves within me spiraled out of control.
"Maybe we should make that other eye match-?" The teen's expression grew with hysteria when he announced his sadistic ideas. Those green eyes showed no mercy. My stomach turned to a bottomless pit.
"Oh Bruno, you always make such a mess when you scar your victims. Ridiculous-" The girl let out a huff. "Besides, lets just grabbed the dough and leave. Don't need the MP showing up." The leader shrugged off her advice. I was all he was focused on.
"Fuck the Military Police, we can deal with them later. Besides-" The plank was moved slightly back behind his head. My heart nearly tore in half at the sight. I wanted to squeal and begged, expect my vision happen to drift to my friend. She had quietly gotten to her feet. She was lurking in the shadows; she was waiting for the moment. I swallowed the swollen lump in my throat.
"This hideous creature needs to learn her place." The leader cackled. Rock practically danced out of his ripped jeans. He clapped his hands and then ran them over his shaved head.
"Do it it-Do it!" He practically pleaded. Drool seeped past his lip. I cringed.
"Whatever-" Ducky said as she waved off the situation. The girl was about to turn around. My closed throat instantly opened. I couldn't let her see my friend. I let out a round of insults and screams. I fought back; my determination fueled me forward. Bruno wrestled me against the brick wall. I could feel my bones cracking under the weight. The blood from my earlier injury spilled from my busted lip. Though in pain, I got the result I wanted, all eyes were back on me.
"Fucking worthless gutter rat. No wonder your mommy abandoned you-who the hell would want a freak show like you-?" The leader yelled at me. His rancid breath spread over my face. The man's eyes were only inches from mine. Sometimes, stupidity is all it takes to get the message across.
I swished the mixture of saliva in my mouth before launching the diluted blood into his face. It wasn't any small amount either. His face twisted in anger.
"Bitch!" He screamed.
There was no reacting.
No time to dodge.
The splintered blunt end of the board slammed into the left side of my head. A perfect shot across my other eye and over my check bone. I screamed in agony. I was unexpectedly able to grip my face and squeeze at the pain. After several moments, I was able to register the fight before me. Again, my friend was defending not only herself, but me as well. She kept taking the beatings. I was crouched over and hissed against the pulsing misery.
"If you've got nothing to lose. Then what's the worry? Why should you worry?" Dad said after he had thrown me to the ground. I was so young. Yet, it was so clear.
I was relentless this time.
I threw myself at them again. This go, I didn't stop. My hands were rounded into machine like weapons. I pounded into Ducky. She flared her arms and clawed to get me off. I then felt someone gabbing at my jacket, jumped from her back and leapt at the shorter man. I had never felt such aggression radiating through me.
It was as if I didn't feel anything.
Everything was numb, but the stamina and momentum it granted me was unbelievable. I threw a left hook square into his side. Rock staggered back before I nailed him in the shin. I wouldn't stop. My knuckles soon collected specks of blood.
Back and forth I fought with Ducky and Rock. Each one had their rounds with me. We all ended up battered and marked. The exhaustion lingered in our heavy breaths. I wasn't going to quite, not now.
I had managed to leach onto Ducky's legs. She collapsed hard, smacking the ground with her elbows. She screamed as I climbed my way up her body. Street fights, we had no limits, no rules. I grabbed handfuls of her bright yellow hair and began yanking out chunks. The alley was full of shrieks and thuds.
I took another kick in my back. Rock used all his strength to beat me near senseless into the stone floor. Somehow, I managed to push through his fist and into his gut. Again, I plastered another one down. We were all soaked in sweat, spit, and blood. Ducky joined and once more the three of us were trying to gain the upper hand. I was wearing down quickly. I was dueling with teens that were at least Levi's height but with more meat to them. No, they weren't missing any meals.
A pair of hands wrapped around my throat. The tight grasp was closing around my windpipe. My already blurry vision was fading in and out with blackness. I could see Ducky snarling at me. Her head had sores from the hair I had pulled out. I drifted to my friend. She too was in a pinch with Bruno.
"Just die already!" She growled, as her grip got stronger. I felt the fibers of my jacket, how the sleeves covered my skin. The feel of that coat-
I pushed my neck forward enough to reach her arm. My teeth did the work from there as they clamped down onto her exposed flesh. She let out a bloodcurdling scream as I chomped deeper. I could actually taste the thick muscle in her arm. Its rubbery substance met my taste buds. The liquid leaked from the wound. The bones in my face sunk further.
"Let go! No-no-stop it!" Ducky cried. Rock, couldn't even get me off of her. No matter the punches or the threats, I wasn't letting go. They were going to have to smash all my teeth in. And even still, I could picture myself gnawing on her with my gums. Their days of running these streets were over. Losing our shelters and food was no longer going to come to either my friend or myself.
We weren't going to be crushed bugs.
"What the hell are you alley serpents up to?" A deep nasally voice bellowed. Everyone stiffened. The only sounds were our gasping lungs. "Hey-are-are you guys stealing again?" The anger from his voice roared. The sound of clanking metal followed his footsteps.
"Its-It's the MP!" Rock released his grip on me as he hollered. Bruno shoved the young girl from his hold.
"Scatter!" The leader announced. He and his other male member flew past the two Military officers. They didn't even hesitate to evacuate. Ducky was thrashing wildly. My jaw still was locked around her arm. I wasn't letting go. She threw a weak hit into my face before heaving all her weight back. The force was strong enough to allow her remaining skin to rip. The chunk of flesh dangled from my teeth.
She didn't even scream as she headed out of the alley and after her group. The officers made little effort to capture them. They stared. I scrunched up my face before spitting out the semi-appalling taste.
Small hands tugged at my arm.
I looked to see my lost friend hovering over me. She was gesturing me to move. I caught sight of the advancing men. The hits from earlier were slowly pinching my nerves.
"Hold it right there!" The second officer yelled.
Without saying a word, my friend and I allowed our legs to make the call. Like bullets, we zoomed out of their reaching hands. The streetlamps lit our path as we raced around the dreary town. I could hear the officers threating tones as they trailed behind us.
I wasn't sure why this sudden thrill was like a drug to me. The running, the being chase, it was exhilarating. My feet sped around corners, merchant stands, and under broken overpasses. We passed street roamers and nearly knocked several down. I jumped over rubble and spun out of tight spots, grant it as best as I could.
We ran for what seemed like hours.
Eventually, we veered near a run down shack. Its Immigration sign was barely visible from all the debris and cobwebs. As I tagged along my friend led the way past the opening and into the main floor room. There, vacant seats covered in dust enticed us to take cover.
We snuggled tightly against each other as we hid behind one of the benches. The sound of fading boots finally allowed us to take a breath. A moment of silence escaped us before we each looked at one another and broke out in hushed laughs.
"So that's where you've been-" Amara sounded repulsed. For the last hour she and I had wrapped up our missing memories within record time. She explained her desperation when she tried to search for me. Her tone grew angry when she mentioned the gang we had encountered. Apparently, she hadn't had a decent meal since I left. Her time with the M.P wasn't pleasant and being chased by the unhappy merchants was a normal outing.
"Yes-" I replied quietly. Amara was nearly two years older than I was. She had a sour personality to anyone other than me. Though, you would have never guessed from her appearance. Her innocent blue eyes against her pale completion seemed more like a doll than a person. Even her dark chocolate hair, though long and untrimmed, framed her delicate face so innocently. To me, she was ideal beauty.
Amara scratched at her neck and chest.
"These stupid marks-" I watched as her nails dug at the maroon colored rings on her skin. Those blemishes had plagued her since we met. She never questioned my problem and I never mentioned hers. It was our mutual understanding.
"You're not going back to them are you-?" My friend's question was more like a statement. I rubbed my aching face. My feelings swirled inside of me.
"Uh, yeah-I mean-" I slightly drifted my voice. Would I return?
"You tell'n me you like being put on a chain? I never see you anymore!" Amara shouted. For once, it was probably a good thing I couldn't see her well. I'm sure her eyes were in the shapes of daggers. I pulled at my sleeves.
"Its-its not what you think." I whispered. "They're nice. They-they've given me my own bed, food, and medicine. They saved me. I told you that. " I didn't look at her. I pulled the jacket's bulky collar up around my neck.
"Sounds like that short one has ya pulled tight." Amara picked at her hand as she talked. I would have pinched my eyes together had they not been swollen.
"Levi-Sir isn't like that. He just has strict chores is all."
"Yeah, sounds like the ball and chain is the mop." My friend's sarcastic tone stabbed into me. Maybe she was right? "Thanks by the way-"
Her unexpected change in voice caught me off guard, "Huh?"
"For helping earlier-thanks" She said. I nodded before wiping a trickle of blood from my lip.
"No problem. Sorry I couldn't do more." I heard her snort a chuckle.
"You're not much of a fighter. Never have been, dude."
She was right. Though I was taller than her, Amara could hold her own longer than I. Out of the two of us, she was the one always starting the fights. She didn't care if she came out a winner. I believe all that pent up rage just needed to get out sometimes.
We both sat and felt around our injuries. After a while, we concluded that neither of us was going to be able to walk the next day.
"Oh that reminds me!" Amara boasted with excitement. My attention turned to her when I heard the sound of a crinkling bag. My jaw nearly dropped.
"You still have it?"
Amara gleamed as she fiddled with the paper bag. "Yeah dude, I wasn't going to pass this treat up! Look-" My friend pulled out a palm size chocolate delicacy.
"Oh yea, tasty dark chocolate cake. Stolen from the master German baker himself." Amara's pride radiated from her voice. I couldn't blame her that was such a rare steal. My mouth nearly watered.
"Here ya go- everyone's gotta' have cake on there special day." She handed me the torn mushy slice. I looked at her in confusion before taking a bite.
"What do ya mean?" Amara smiled before elbowing me.
"Dude, its your birthday! Duh-"
I dragged my feet as I headed back.
My hands were empty and so was my pocket. A sick feeling was stirring in my stomach. I was sure; it wasn't from the cake either.
I had decided to give Amara the money. She had talked about her starvation so long that I couldn't leave without ensuring she had something for the next couple of days. Besides, my story seemed believable.
Just as I was about to head to the right, something halted me from going forward. I felt the neck of my jacket pulled into a tight ball. I let out a gasp at the unexpected action.
"You're in some knee-deep shit, brat."
I hunched my shoulders. The tension was so strong I wanted to ball up and die. I knew the choices I had made were possible candidates for punishments. Except, I was riding off Amara's words, "just lie as always and don't get caught."
"Get your ass moving-now!" Levi's voice threated as he shoved me forward. I didn't want to be in front. That meant I could only feel his presence from behind. There was no getting a reading on his expression. Maybe he wasn't that mad?
Wow, was I wrong.
"Levi-Bro calm down!" Isabel did her best to defend my pathetic story. "You probably didn't see everything. Look at her-it probably was the M.P. You know how they are-!" I stood there frozen, mortified to the core. I had never seen him this enraged.
"Levi, listen-" Farlan laid a hand on his friend's shoulder, but only for a second before Levi smacked it away. He spun on his heal and faced me. The knife he was carrying was pointed in my direction from across the table.
"Don't you dare and try to justify the lies this brat is feeding you." Levi growled. I shrunk several inches at his words.
"Levi-Si-Sir" I whispered with fear spilling into my syllables. I heard a loud thud echo in the room. Levi's knife was speared through the table. His slate eyes narrowed at me. I pulled myself deeper in the jacket.
"Levi!" Farlan exclaimed in shock. Isabel was like me, speechless. The leader stood up straighter. His shoulders blocked my view.
"I refuse to have a distrusting snake lurking around here. Not to mention someone who scuffles in fights like some shitty stray animal. I will not tolerate such behavior, brat. I don't give a damn how old you are or your sap story." The tears began to fill from my painfully tender eyes. I choked a hard lump. My response was the same; I simply nodded with unmet eyes.
Levi made his way towards me. I could see his shoes on the ground. Then a rough hand jerked my face upwards.
"Look at me when I'm addressing you."
"Yes-yes Sir-" I squeaked. I slightly shook as he starred his icy gaze through me. All I could do, was wait for my punishment.
Was he going to hit me?
Make me stand for countless hours?
"Get your sorry ass to your room. No dinner and you sure as hell can forget any reading for the rest of the week." And with that, Levi pushed my chin away before heading to his personal space. The door slammed once he disappeared behind it.
I didn't say anything.
I went to my bed with eyes full of sorrow and relief.
I laid on the covers my face buried into the jacket. I wrapped myself tighter in its comforting fibers, as I sat and thought about several impossible things.
Happy birthday to me-
Special thanks again to Yami Rin for helping create the character "Amara". All credit goes to her for this amazing OC.